2023 Forum Highly Successful
The 2023 Parish Development Forum was held at Holy Trinity Church in Parma OH in mid-July. With 90 registrants, including attendees from both the Greek and Antiochian Archdioceses and the Ukrainian Church of both US and Canada, this Tenth Forum was the largest in-person Forum thus far.
The Forum, co-sponsored by the Archdiocese, welcomed attendees from the following Archdiocesan parishes: Holy Ghost (Ambridge), Holy Resurrection (Belle Vernon), St. John the Baptist (Canonsburg), Ss. Peter and Paul (Edinboro), St. John the Baptist (New Kensington), St. Mary’s (Pittsburgh), St. Nicholas (McKees Rocks), and St. Nicholas (Weirton).
Important speaking contributions were delivered by
- Scott Thumma, Hartford Institute of Research in Religion, -- Landscape of Religion in America,
- Adam Roberts, Antiochian Archdiocese -- Leadership and Personal Purpose.
- Steven Christoforou FOCUS North America -- Meeting the Needs of Young People.
- Fr Jonathan Bannon (ACROD) -- Welcoming New Persons to the Parish
A pre-Forum field trip was taken to assist with meal service at St. Herman’s House of Hospitality an Orthodox Outreach operated by FOCUS Cleveland.
In service of the Forum’s theme, “Our Parish and the Future”, a significant portion of the Forum agenda was given to longer term focus on defining the strengths and ‘muscles’ necessary for Orthodox parishes to flourish in the future. Three key areas of necessary parish health and vibrancy were selected.
- Clergy Laity dynamics as a key to maintaining functional leadership and minimizing internal friction.
- Attracting and Integrating Converts as a means to bring more persons to Christ.
- Connecting Parish Ministry with the Neighborhood as a means of becoming less insular to encourage ministering to others.
To explore these topics attendees broke into facilitated small group discussions to identify obstacles, necessary resources and tools and target outcomes.
In support of the ‘Attracting Converts’ segment in the Forum agenda, attendees received the results of the 2023 Orthodox Convert Survey which included responses from 773 persons who had embraced the Orthodox faith as adults. Almost half the total survey respondents had converted since the beginning of the pandemic.
More responses were received from persons who converted at a parish in Pennsylvania than any other state. According to His Eminence Archbishop Melchisedek parishes in the Archdiocese collectively have more inquirers and catechumens than at any time in the past decades.
A few key findings include:
- An increasing proportion of converts are men. Almost 75% since 2019 are men.
- The median age of recent converts is 31,
- Though most converts come to Orthodoxy from Evangelical, Mainline Protestant and Catholic traditions there has been a slight increase of receiving persons not previously affiliated with Christian bodies in recent years. (Up to almost 20%).
- Of those converting since 2019 over 45% agreed that the pandemic influenced their decision to seek a new faith in some direct or indirect way.
- Virtually all recent converts were significantly influenced by online podcasts, websites, and other online personalities.
When asked what they found attractive about Orthodox Christianity there were of course many responses. One simple summary used answers starting with the letter “s” including: “scriptural”, “sensory”, “sacramental”, “sacred”, “saints”, “stability”, “singing”, “self-discipline” and “(not) shallow”.
When asked about the attractive qualities of Orthodox parishes the qualities most mention were: English liturgy; proximity; priest – no pressure/good teacher; people – welcoming encouraging: children welcome; and diversity.
The number one turn-off of converts was “ethnic and insular qualities of the parish”.